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A novel by Michael A. Stackpole (2000, Del Rey)
Book 2 in the New Jedi Order: Dark Tide
25 years after Star Wars: A New Hope

The Jedi scout out the Yuuzhan Vong, and make a stand at Ithor.



2 stars

Read October 28th to November 2nd, 2001  
    Another "standard" adventure, with no real substance.  Several ideas don't really make sense, and the resolution feels forced.  The only redeeming grace of this rather boring book is the risks it took, and a couple of mushy emotional scenes.

I hope this is not the beginning of Yuuzhan Vong character assassination.  What R.A. Salvatore did a terrific job of in Vector Prime, Stackpole degenerates here.  The Vong have suddenly become Klingons, or a combination of Klingons and the Zirzh from Timothy Zhan's Conqueror's Trilogy.  They have rivaling clans, like the Zirzh.  When the one in a superior position fails, the command is given to the next in charge, for no real good reason.  Like Klingons, the superior beats the subordinate up, even if he offers good advice.  If the superior doesn't want to hear it, he can beat his second in command or can even kill him.  

We get a certain view of the Vong that we haven't had from the previous books, and it's nice to learn a little more about them.  I would now like to see command from a female Vong point of view.  There was a female in charge of a subgroup in Vector Prime, but she was barely even mentioned.  It turns out that the Vong that appeared in that first New Jedi Order book was a group of politicians.  They took the invasion into their own hands, and failed.  Now, we have the leader of the military arm of the Vong, and by the end of this book, they have failed, as well.  I guess the next step would be the priests.  

Actually, the military is still here, but the leadership is gone.  Shedao Shai is arrogant and, though he is presented as being smart, is actually pretty stupid.  His second in command, Deign Lian, is constantly plotting against him, and I thought this was the way the New Republic would win the battle for Ithor.  I am glad that I was wrong.  Lian is working for two masters, one of whom appears as a mysterious entity, and I thought it would turn out to be Nom Anor.  Alas, here is another shadowy character, hiding in the backgrounds.  Maybe Tsavong Lah will feature in future books.  

As for the New Republic side of things, this book seems to be a mirror of the previous book, Onslaught.  Luke assembles the Jedi, there is a little bickering from Kyp and his gang, then Luke sends them out on more reconnaissance missions.  There are no complaints, but one Jedi goes off on her own, looking for superweapons to destroy the Vong with.  A Twilek called Daeshara'cor became incensed that the Vong took slaves, and her mother was a slave, so she nearly turned to the Dark Side looking for the Emperor's secret weapons.  This is a pretty meaningless plot, as Luke, Mara, Anakin and a shady privateer Chalco go after her, to the planet Vortex (where Admiral Ackbar crashed into their Cathedral in Jedi Search), where they meet with Qui Xux.  They then follow her to Garos IV, where she manages to capture Anakin, but Luke and Chalco save him and recapture the Twilek.  Anakin is supposed to learn some things here, both from Chalco and by saving Daeshara'cor from the Dark Side, but I think the message got lost, somewhere along the line.

The real mission here deals with, of course, Corran Horn.  He takes Ganner (whom we met in Onslaught) and Jacen to the planet of Garqi, to meet with a local resistance fighter, and to learn more about what the Vong are doing.  

Stackpole is good at writing battle scenes, especially in space.  There is a great battle in the skies above Garqi.  We see it mostly from Jaina's point of view as Corran and his companions (including several Noghri) descend.  They hide a ship within a ship, so that the Vong will think they crashed onto the planet and didn't survive.  This doesn't make sense because of the trail they leave, but the whole Garqi situation didn't really make sense.  The resistance member takes them to a facility where the Vong have implanted humans and aliens with controlling devices.  It appears that they are testing out the best method of creating slaves out of the people of this galaxy.  Corran has a history on Garqi, one which I had to search hard to resolve.  In two or three lines scattered through The Krytos Trap, we learn that Corran freed some slaves here after he fled Corellia and before he joined Rogue Squadron.  One of those prisoners was the mother of the resistance member they meet with.

Corran's reasoning is wrong here, but it gives us a pretty good fight scene with lightsabers and nasty Vong.  The Yuuzhan Vong are nowhere near as good as they were presented in Vector Prime, of course.  They are barely as good as the Jedi, and have fewer skills or imagination.  Corran doesn't want to steal the experimental slaves from their barracks, because the Vong would think the New Republic could develop a cure.  So he waits until a hunt, in which the Vong chase their slaves, and if the slaves act like humans, they go back and test some more.  Corran wants to steal the near-dead bodies after the hunt, so that they can develop a cure.  The theft would occur in the chaos of battle, so the Vong wouldn't know they were there until too late.  Huh?  When the Vong see the lightsaber slashes, they will know immediately that their slaves didn't do this.  They will know that two slaves are missing, taken by the Jedi, and they would know the New Republic would be able to experiment on cures.  So what was the point?  

Other than a decent lightsaber battle, of course.  But it wasn't really that good, to warrant such strange and convoluted plotting.  

The major change in direction of the plot comes about on Garqi, though.  The botanical gardens there have samples of an Ithorian tree, amongst which the Jedi and Noghri hide from the Vong.  And it is within these trees that they make their last stand.  Seven Vong appear, and like in Star Trek, they only fight one at a time.  Ganner strikes out along with a Noghri, Corran and Jacen, but they all fight one Vong before the next one joins the fight.  Obviously the Vong like to duel, but once the subordinates saw that this was not going to be a fair fight, wouldn't they join in?  The leader is difficult to take down, but the others don't seem to be as formidable.  And the trees take matters into their own hands.  They secrete a pollen to which the Vong living armor is allergic!  The armor swells up and dies, choking the life from the warriors also.  

Whenever an author tells us that a character knows he is going to die here, we know it isn't true.  So why do authors still use that tactic?  I had doubts that Corran was going to survive the book, but I knew that if he died, it wouldn't be until the very end.  Of course, Chewie didn't die at the end of Vector Prime, so what does that prove?

Corran and company burn the gardens to the ground, but they know that the Vong will figure out that the Ithorian trees killed their men, and that they will invade Ithor next to eliminate the threat.  So they, along with a small fleet from the Imperial Remnant (!) and more ships from the New Republic, go to Ithor's defense.  

Leia managed to convince Admiral Pellaeon and his Moffs that the Yuuzhan Vong threat was real, and though they both have to fight political battles, they manage to get through it.  This was yet another mirror moment from Onslaught, as she uses Danni Quee as proof that she isn't making up propaganda.  I liked the friendship that developed between Admirals Pellaeon and Kre'fey.  They were military leaders who knew what they were up against, and were able to develop new tactics on the fly.  

We get a brief battle in the skies of Ithor, but when Kre'fey figures out how to defeat the Vong ships (rather easily, I think, again compared to Vector Prime, regardless of what tactics have changed since then), Deign Lian goes to the other side of the planet to regroup. 

For Shedao Shai has a grudge against Corran.  The Jedi had slain two of Shai's kinsmen in the last book, and took the bones of his blessed ancestor.  So he kills Elegos (whom I figured out became a friend of Corran's during his stint with the pirates in I, Jedi), the senator who tried to find a way to exchange information between the New Republic and the Vong, and to try and create peace.  The scene where Corran finds out that Elegos was killed was not a shock to me, as I figured out what was going to happen immediately when Shai said he would send Elegos back "with a message".  

Shedao Shai descends to Ithor's surface, and his troops are tricked by a technological shelter that the Jedi set up in preparation for the attack.  It blows up, taking many Vong with it as they are trying to beat the "travesty" to pieces.  I liked the fact that they were so caught up in their hatred of technology that they couldn't see the trap.  Others board the herd ship Tafanda Bay, and are repulsed by the Jedi on that ship.  Anakin is unable to save Daeshara'cor from the Vong, but she teaches him that Chewie might not have hated him for leaving him.  Jaina gets the same message as her wingman is killed in the sky battle.

Corran calls for a truce and challenges Shai to one-on-one battle, which he wins using a tactic he demonstrated to Luke and Mara at the beginning of the book.  As agreed, the Vong leave Ithor's surface, but Lian infects it with a biological agent that sterilizes the planet.  I didn't like the description of the destructive agent, but I did feel the pall that was cast over the New Republic as Ithor died.  This was a major planet in the New Republic, and one that was full of life, and radiated peace!  

Ithor's death is blamed, of course, on Corran.  Never mind that if he hadn't managed to call the week-long truce, they never would have been able to evacuate the entire planet.  No Ithorians were killed by the war.  But their Sacred Mother Jungle was destroyed.  Fortunately, people like Mirax were able to take samples of many forms of life (including the pollen plant), but it will take years, generations maybe, before they can even get a small forest out of any of it.  

On the face of it, Corran's deal doesn't make sense, because the prize is the bones for Shedao Shai, or Ithor if Corran wins.  But we know that the Vong will eventually take Ithor anyway, even if Corran wins.  But Corran doesn't really believe the Vong will accept his word.  He is fighting for the one week truce, to save as many lives as possible.  Ithor could be considered dead as soon as the Vong landed on its surface.  

So now, by the very last pages, Borsk Fey'lya has stirred up anti-Jedi sentiment, in blaming Corran for the destruction of Ithor, and Luke must also disown Corran, because it is the only way the Jedi cannot fall from public grace.  This, I don't believe, either, because they would simply blame Luke for not controlling his Jedi, and this would lead to more anti-Jedi sentiment.  

Luke has turned into a spineless sap in this book. Every time somebody challenges him, he backs away from responsibility.  He tells Corran that he doesn't think the duel is a good idea, but even when Pellaeon and Kre'fey tell him they would not allow one of their officers to do this, he bows to Corran's wishes, and stands at his side.  Then, when Corran tells him he will go back to Corellia and that Luke must disown him as a Jedi, he acquiesces to this, too!  Luke would always find a better way.  

I wonder if this will push Jacen beyond the point where he want to leave the Jedi, too.  He is against everything that happens here, but is swept up in it all.  I think it's about time he goes off on his own to figure out who he is.  

There is a small political ceremony before the battle for Ithor took place, and I'm not sure how to interpret it.  The Chiss arrived at Garqi to help Corran get away from there.  These are Thrawn's people, who showed up in Vision of the Future.  Apparently, they have dealt with the threat presented from the Unknown Regions that they told Luke and Mara about, and are now ready to help out.  They are led by Jagged Fel (what kind of name is that?), and it is immediately clear that Jaina has a crush on this hot pilot (hot in more ways than one, of course).  Is this setup for another book?  Or will he disappear from the Star Wars Universe after this?  

Michael Stackpole has written a lot of great books in the Star Wars Universe.  From the Rogue Squadron books to I, Jedi and all those comics, many have been great, and others have been mediocre.  Like Kevin J. Anderson and Timothy Zahn, I think it's time he retired from this Universe.  His books are getting repetitive, and he has to invoke some strange logic and bend the characters to fit the plot and make the book get to where he wants it.  In his last novel for Star Wars, Isard's Revenge, I found he started to lose his grip.  Here, in this Duology, I think he should let go before he loses his grip altogether.  

I was ready to give this book a single star, but there were just barely enough good moments to bring it up.  The friendship between Pellaeon and Kre'Fey was one such moment.  The death of Ithor, although I didn't like the way it was written, in narrator form, was another, because it was so haunting.  There were some good moments between lovers, Mirax and Corran, and Luke and Mara, that also contributed to the good side of the scale.  And I have to mention the space battles.  They were a little too technical, and he seemed to focus more on giving the new starships slang pilot terms than the real battle, but they were still well written.  I would like him to stop writing about the Force, because he doesn't treat it as in the movies, more like magic.  

I hope the New Jedi Order can improve from here.  What this Duology showed was that the Vong are a real threat.  The whole galaxy now knows this.  I hope their Klingon-like nature is just this author's way of portraying them, and that we will see different portrayals in future books.  We have more and more anti-Jedi sentiment, which should build some tension in the future.  I wonder if Kyp will split from Luke's Academy officially down the line.  Ganner has learned a lesson, and has the scar to prove it, and has distanced himself from Kyp, but I wonder what it will take to show Kyp the way...  Jaina didn't do much in this book, but Jacen and Anakin did grow a bit, and it will be interesting to see in which directions they grow. Until next time...


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